In September 2021 a problem with a Waterville, Maine-based health center put more than 100,000 patient records at risk. According to a report from Becker’s Health IT, hard drives being used for healthcare data storage were improperly disposed of.

Since the drives were simple hard disk drives (HDDs) used for patient data storage, the breach of the unsecured and unencrypted drives put personally identifiable information (PII) and protected health information (PHI) of patients out into the world. Criminals had access to PII and PII, including patient names, addresses, birthdates, Social Security numbers, medical insurance information, lab results, medical record numbers and treatment records, according to the news report.

Unfortunately, this isn’t an anomaly. Data breaches — especially in the healthcare sector — are all too common today. There were more than 40 million patient records compromised between January and November 2021, according to Healthcare IT News. While most of the breaches were via network hacking, ransomware, and phishing, the onus is definitely on healthcare providers, including individual practice owners, to secure data wherever it exists.

Finding the right data security solutions in healthcare

Unlike other industries, healthcare data must be always on and always secure. There’s no way to isolate data or to eliminate access since a single patient’s data must be accessible to anyone who is treating them — e.g., doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers — not to mention insurance billers and the patients themselves, who are increasingly asking for access. There is a way to simultaneously allow access and still keep things safe: Encryption.

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Healthcare practices can use drives that automatically encrypt data as it is written to the drive. While it’s possible to encrypt traditional hard disk drives (HDDs), there are several problems with using them extensively in the healthcare field.

HDDs are inherently slow and can be unreliable, as they write data to a spinning disk called a platter and use an actuator arm and read/write heads. The arm has to locate the data, read it and retrieve it, which takes time, since data can be broken up and written to multiple places on the drive. It’s also important to note that any of the HDD mechanical parts can fail at any time. In addition, automatic encryption on HDDs is typically software-based and installed on the very drive that’s being protected. Given all of these HDD drawbacks, it’s not surprising that many healthcare practices are updating their data storage and switching over to solid state drives (SSDs).

Hardware-based encryption with SATA SSDs

At their most basic, high-capacity SATA SSDs are more reliable, faster and secure — characteristics that are necessary for storing what can be life-or-death patient data. From a reliability perspective, SSDs have no moving parts, and data is written and read via NAND flash — a non-volatile flash memory — which is always on and always available. Security is taken care of through SSDs’ use of hardware-based disk encryption via a dedicated crypto processor supporting data protection. As soon as something is written to the flash, it is encrypted automatically, which means that if someone gains access to the drive, it is extremely difficult to break the encryption and steal the data — even if someone walked off with the drive itself.

SSDs are also extremely fast compared to HDDs. Even the slowest SSDs are four times faster than the fastest HDDs. As points out, “An SSD-equipped PC will boot in far less than a minute, often in just seconds. A hard drive requires time to speed up to operating specs, and it will continue to be slower than an SSD during normal use. A PC or Mac with an SSD boots faster, launches and runs apps faster, and transfers files faster.” They’re also smaller, and they use less energy.

Using a SATA SSD, you can quickly and easily move the drive from machine to machine and from exam room to exam room, making it possible to take patient care up a notch while still ensuring security and reliability.

Learn more about the many ways SSDs can support innovation in healthcare practices — and prepare for your storage upgrade by taking this quick assessment to see which SSDs are best for your organization.

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Karen Stealey

Karen J. Stealey is a veteran business, health, lifestyle and technology journalist with a wide range of publishing experience. Her tech and business work has appeared in Forbes, BusinessWeek Online, Adweek, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, MyBusiness Magazine, Government Computer News, Workforce Management, CFO, Crain's New York and Crain's BtoB.

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